Keep Paddling: The Importance of Continuous Learning and Growth

Victor Man, Ecolab Fellow, Research, Development & Engineering writes about his approach to innovation and growth.

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 As someone with almost 34 years of experience in the Research, Development & Engineering (RD&E) function, I have found that one Chinese phrase in particular has been instrumental in driving innovation and growth in my career: “Studying is like paddling against the current, when you stop paddling, you fall backward." This phrase speaks to the importance of continuous learning and growth, and it is a mindset that has helped me throughout my personal and professional life.

Being of Chinese descent and upbringing, I have always been aware of the tremendous knowledge and wisdom that can be found in different cultures. My personal connection to the Chinese phrase comes from the emphasis on hard work and persistence that is instilled in Chinese culture. This has helped me to appreciate the benefits of being part of a team and to never give up on my goals.

The Chinese expression also emphasizes the importance of innovation in driving growth. Innovation requires a mindset of continuous learning and development, as well as a willingness to take risks and experiment. Companies can foster a culture of innovation by encouraging employees to share diverse ideas, experiment with new approaches and learn from failures. In my own experience, this has led to 199 issued U.S. patents and innovations that have accounted for more than $500 million in annual sales. 

One of my most successful products is Wash-N-Walk®, a no-rinse floor cleaner that minimizes or eliminates slips and falls. This product was developed using multiple pillars of technology, including one that was originally created to develop an aircraft carrier deck cleaner for military use. Although the aircraft cleaner did not result in sales, it was turned into a building exterior cleaner, which led to the development of Wash-N-Walk®

I believe working with diverse backgrounds to develop technologies and solutions with a long-term focus is critical not only in the RD&E space but in everything we do in our lives both personally and professionally. This requires one to seek different points of view to inform the path forward and to see failure as an opportunity to learn and improve. This perspective has led me to more than three decades of success at Ecolab. “When you stop paddling, you fall backward” reminds me that the key to success is persistence and a willingness to keep moving forward, even when it feels challenging. 

As we celebrate Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month, it is important to recognize the contributions of AAPI individuals to society and to embrace diversity and continuous learning. By paddling against the current and never stopping our pursuit of knowledge, we can drive innovation and growth in our personal and professional lives. Let us all embrace this mindset and work together to build a better future.


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